Money Talks, So Should You

Scam alert: Mystery shopping, work-at-home scams

Steve Rhode
by Steve Rhode, Dimespring Contributor  (@GetOutOfDebtGuy)

In good times and in bad, people with money worries or troubles are a prime target for scammers. Today the most common scams are particularly devious, because people are mostly at the end of their rope and resources when seeking help.

Rather than helping, scam “artists” are incredibly creative in scaring consumers into paying money they don’t owe, or promising a solution that is too good to be true. Don’t become their next victim. Recognize and report a scam, by knowing the warning signs.

The common denominator with the mystery shopper/work-at-home scam is the official-looking – but fake – check. With this scam, you’re promised some money in advance for work you’ll do after you get paid.

READ: Scam alert: Know the warning signs

The scammer “accidentally” sends you what appears to be a certified or bank check for a much larger amount than you were promised. They apologize for the error and ask you to deposit the check, but send them back the balance, say, $2,000. Not to worry, they’ll trust you to send them the money, they say.

That official-looking check, unfortunately, is a fake. By the time the check flows through the banking system and bounces, you’ve withdrawn the money from your bank account and sent it back via a foreign Western Union destination, as instructed. Unfortunately, any money you sent out of the country is unlikely to be returned to you.

If you ever get such a check, ask your bank how many business days it will take to clear, and then don’t do anything until that time passes. You’ll notice the scammers will get impatient with any delay on your part. They'll begin to contact you frequently, making requests and repeating their claims for the funds. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured to pay. They know the check is going to bounce and the plot will be foiled if you delay.

READ: Scam alert: Phony debt collectors

If you’re a victim of this type of scam, contact your bank, the office of your state’s Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Your experience is a valuable tool in helping state and federal agencies find the phonies and put them out of business.

Have you been the victim of this type of a mystery shopper or work-at-home scam? Let us know which one and how you knew.


Steve Rhode is a consumer debt expert who has been helping people find good solutions for bad debt problems since 1994. Having lived through financial problems, which led to his bankruptcy in 1990, he decided there must be better ways for people to face debt issues.